I’ve forgotten who said it to me or when it was, exactly. But I can still see the expression on her face — the puzzlement, the pain. She and her husband had lost one parent, then another. There were more diseases on the horizon, more bad news coming. She was steeling herself for more.
“Is this how it’s going to be from now on?”
It was a question about her age and mine, this time of life, when the losses of friends and family members are mounting. This year, I lost my father, an old friend from graduate school, my friend Pat. Two other friends are seriously ill, too.
Last week, another friend, Gary Chapman, died suddenly on a kayaking trip in Guatemala. He was 58, seemingly robust, but died from a massive heart attack. His wife, Carol, my dear friend, is suddenly a widow. She and her husband lived a passionate, adventurous life, full of travel and friends and long conversations. Together, they were complete.
Now I look at her face, ravaged by grief. I know she will survive this, because I know how strong she is and how many caring friends she has. But it’s going to be hard and lonely. She knows that, less than a week after his death. She knows she will get through it, somehow, but right now, she is living from minute to minute.
So, yes. This is how it’s going to be from now on. This is the human condition, this is how it always was. It’s this, but it’s more. I think of our wonderful friend Bob Solomon, the philosopher, and his great capacity for love and friendship. I’ve always loved and drawn comfort from his words, which were spoken at his funeral, “Gratitude, I want to suggest, is not only the best answer to the tragedies of life. It is the best approach to life itself.”
In this holiday season, I am grateful that Carol and Gary had so many full and good years together. I’m grateful for birth of Collins Grace Alonzo, the first grandchild of my good friend, Steve Collins — who promises to be a doting grandfather.
I’m happy both our kids will be here for the holidays, that we’ll give the last holiday party in this house we’ve loved, that my husband and I still laugh and take great pleasure in each other.
This is how it’s going to be — forever and from now on. We celebrate whenever we can, we dance, we drink, we sing off-key. We seek as much light and life as we can get. When it grows darker, we light another candle for as long as we can, trying to be grateful for every flicker of fire. Because, really, how else do you live?
Merry Christmas to you all.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)